I have angrily ranted here before about how science has failed us, the parents of children with autism. I won't repeat myself except to say that science has failed us: the parents of children with autism. Nobody knows what causes autism. NOBODY. Even the people who claim that they know what causes autism... they're wrong. They don't know. Science doesn't know, parents don't know, all we can do is guess, really. Some combination of genetic and environmental factors. Or perhaps just genetic factors? Or perhaps just environmental factors? Did I mention yet that nobody knows?
There's a new study out, done by Kaiser Permanente which says "Children whose mothers take Zoloft, Prozac, or similar antidepressants during pregnancy are twice as likely as other children to have a diagnosis of autism or a related disorder" (hmmmm. a health insurance provider, I wonder if there was any self-serving motivation behind this study or these findings? No, no... that would be silly and cynical of me to even suggest such a thing... forget I said anything). It says "children who were exposed to the drugs during the first trimester were nearly four times as likely to develop an autism spectrum disorder." It does not say that antidepressants cause autism. It does stay that further research is necessary and these findings would need to be confirmed in larger studies. There has been a lot of talk on The Internets about this study, Mothers of children with autism are blaming themselves (moreso) and women are wondering if they should stop taking their meds if they want to get pregnant.
Let me tell you about my experience.
First of all, I have been depressed my entire life and I take an SSRI for it. I came to terms, long ago, with the fact that my brain chemistry is fucked up and I need this medication in order to survive. I'm not embarrassed about this, I'm not afraid to mention it, this is a fact of my life. Anybody have a problem with that? You can go fuck yourself.
Doctors will always tell you that, during pregnancy, everything is a "risk assessment." Do the potential risks that come with staying on your medication outweigh the benefit that you get from taking it? Will your life fall apart if you go off the meds? Will you make it through the next 9 months without it? Will your child definitely not have autism as a result? You don't know the answer to that last question, it's all just a toss-up, what with that whole "science has failed us" thing I mentioned earlier.
When I got pregnant with Child 1 I did my "risk assessment" and decided to stop taking the meds. "Nobody really knows," the doctor told me, so I decided to stop for the health of my baby. And I was totally miserable for 9 fucking months. I was angry and irritable all the time and I developed debilitating panic attacks while trying to commute to and from work. But that wasn't the worst of it....
The Post Partum Depression started a few weeks before he was born and continued for 6 weeks after his birth until I finally said "fuck this," stopped trying (and failing) to breastfeed and went back on the meds. Maybe some of you are now thinking "yeah, but it ended eventually and autism is forever," and that's certainly true, but those 2 months of hell were, without question, the worst thing that's ever happened to me. Worse than autism. And if I had continued on that course it's possible that one day I would have taken my baby and stepped in front of a moving car. And he ended up with autism, anyway.
With Child #2 I did the same risk assessment and when things started to fall apart, like it did the first time, I said "fuck this" much earlier and went back on the meds when I was about 6 months pregnant. No PPD. And no autism.
So, what is my point? I'm certainly not saying that my personal experience is proof that there's no connection between SSRIs and autism, I'm just reiterating my original point that nobody knows and science has failed us. But if you're thinking of going off meds to get pregnant, or facing any of those choices right now, don't let what happened to me happen to you. Do your risk assessments and if things start to fall apart? Take care of yourself. First.
It's not my fault that my kid has autism but it was my fault that I didn't take care of myself. And to any of you who did take the meds and whose kids have autism? It's not your fault your kid has autism. We're screwed, us autism moms, because no matter what happens it seems like we're going to get blamed for it, but it's not our fault
I know a lot of my friends with kids on the spectrum are reading this, and I'll ask you all this: If you knew then what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
I would. Even with knowing everything that I know today? I would have taken the meds.